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U.S., Cuba battle over 14 songs.

Fourteen songs are at the center of a U.S.-Cuban copyright dispute involving the immensely popular Buena Vista Social Club.

Los Angeles-based Peer International Corp. is suing a Cuban state entity, Termidor Music Publishers, in a London court. Peer claims that its copyright to the songs--dating back to the 1930s--was unlawfully taken over by the Castro government in 1959.

Termidor sought to register itself in Great Britain as owner of the songs' copyrights. However, Editora Musical de Cuba, which turned rights to the 14 songs over to Termidor, argues that its original contracts with Peer are null and void because they were "unconscionable bargains" not recognized by law.

The Buena Vista Social Club album, released in 1997 by U.S. guitarist Ry Cooder, was followed later by a documentary of the same name. Both sparked an international surge of interest in Cuban music, turning once-obscure Cuban musicians like Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuonda into worldwide pop stars.

Yet Peter Prescott, a British lawyer representing the Cuban government, said in court papers that many of the composers received "only a few pesos and maybe a drink of rum" for their work. The five composers of the songs in question have all died, though Cuban lawyers say their heirs could benefit from royalty payments.

A hearing at London's High Court ended after video links to witnesses in Cuba broke down, prompting Judge John Lindsay to move the case to Havana.

On May 25, Lindsay acknowledged in an AP story that he'd have no jurisdiction as a judge in Cuba, but that "if he received permission from the Cuban authorities, he would travel there in September as a special examiner and hear testimony."

Lawyers for Peer were hoping the case would remain in London, though opposing lawyers wanted the proceedings moved to Cuba, arguing it was too expensive and difficult to bring frail, elderly musicians to Britain in order to testify.
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Title Annotation:Termidor Music Publishers
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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